Appreciating America's Most Underrated Athlete
Last Saturday, a 125-pound man pulled off a mid-air suplex and armbar combination to break the record for most consecutive UFC title defenses.
The ridiculous submission was one of the best finishes in MMA history, cementing Demetrious Johnson’s status as the promotion’s best pound-for-pound fighter:
Nobody was really surprised by the result. Johnson out-struck Ray Borg 172 to 22 en route to his 13th straight win. Ironically, Johnson’s fight wasn’t even the main event, which was given to an interim lightweight championship bout instead.
The UFC’s best fighter isn’t even its biggest star.
“Mighty Mouse” has somehow flown under the radar despite his long-term success. He’s 27-2-1 and the only person to ever hold the Flyweight championship belt, which he won on September 22nd of 2012. He’s kept that belt for 1,845 days and will pass Jose Aldo next week to become the third-longest title holder in the promotion’s history.
Johnson is at or near the top in a number of statistics and records.
For starters, his 86.6 win percentage is sixth-highest all-time among fighters with 10 or more bouts.
He’s got the third-most finishes in title fights (6), the fourth-most takedowns in UFC history (64), and the fourth-most significant strikes landed in title bouts (812). He holds the record for latest finish in UFC history, when he submitted a guy with one second remaining on the clock during his 8th title defense. That means he’s still stalking his opponent when the other guy is totally gassed.
There’s also this:
Insane Demetrious Johnson statistic…
Landed strikes during his 11-fight title defense streak:
Johnson – 1,253
Opponents – 534#UFC216
— Mike Chiappetta MMA (@MikeChiappetta) October 8, 2017
Johnson isn’t flashy. He’s not excessively brash like Conor McGregor or mouthy like Michael Bisping. He doesn’t talk about making money or knocking guys out, but he’ll respond when provoked:
“I’m not in the business of taking hits and concussions. That shit is overrated. I’m here to make a fool of you, throw you like a bag of potatoes and break your arm.”
One of the reasons Johnson doesn’t get as much love as he should is because he fights at 125. The Flyweight division hasn’t provided much competition over the years and there aren’t many interesting storylines outside of what Johnson just accomplished. There’s no juicy rivalry. His behavior doesn’t polarize. He just fights and wins, which is simultaneously admirable and boring for a sport that thrives on hype.
Flyweight is also the UFC’s lowest men’s weight class, so any outsiders looking to challenge DJ for the belt would have to shed pounds. The only other option is for Johnson to go up to 135 and fight at Bantamweight again, which he did before the 125 division was created.
T.J. Dillashaw is fighting Cody Garbrandt for the 135 title next month and Dominick Cruz beat Johnson at 135 six years ago, so I’m not exactly sure where Johnson fits. He could surely solidify his status as the greatest of all time if he defeated one of those three. He’s expressed interest in taking one of these “super fights” if the payday and the circumstances are right, but maybe he’d rather continue to dominate 125 and add to this list:
No one knows what Johnson wants to do next.
Whatever the case, it’s a remarkable run for a 31-year-old guy who didn’t even start fighting until he was 21. He was raised by a deaf mother and dealt with an abusive step father, then went on to become a standout wrestler and world champion mixed-martial artist. It’s not dissimilar from the story of Eddie Alvarez, who grew up right here on the streets of Kensington and later found MMA success. Eddie’s story found some traction in a town that has historically loved the “four major North American sports” while relegating everything else to niche status.
So I don’t know how much Philly enjoys combat sports, but I know this town appreciates a winner, and nobody wins like Demetrious Johnson.